The Vancouver Canucks have lured promising NCAA defenseman Ben Hutton, 21, away from the college system and into the professional ranks, according to reports emanating from Portland, Maine., where Hutton plays – or played – his college hockey with the Black Bears.
The news for now has not been confirmed by a Vancouver reporter or the team, though the report itself comes from Whiteneigh Kinne of WCHS6, an NBC affiliate based in Portland. The news has been amplified by WCSH6 sportscaster Lee Goldberg, and SBN’s Jeff Cox has similarly picked it up.
Hutton is a left-handed shooting 6-foot-3 defenseman who has been enormously productive offensively during his time in the NCAA. His signing is a boon for the Canucks’ prospect pool and potentially the Utica Comets’ Calder Cup hopes.
Read on past the jump.
Let’s start with a look at Hutton’s contract status. It was reported this past weekend by Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province that the Canucks’ plan was to sign Hutton to an entry-level contract – it’ll be a three-year contract, based on Hutton’s age – that begins at the start of the 2015-16 regular league year. The play then is for the Canucks to do as the Philadelphia Flyers did with promising NCAA defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere last season and sign Hutton to an amateur tryout deal, which would see him report to Utica and be eligible to compete in the AHL playoffs.
Without seeing the official announcement, it’ll be interesting to see whether or not that’s in fact the sort of deal Hutton has signed.
The other possibility is the Johnny Gaudreau route, in which the contract will begin immediately. Teams occasionally sign NCAA prospects to these sorts of deals in order to induce the player to forgo their senior year, which allows team to avoid the pratfall of CBA rule 8.6(c)(iv) – which is the article that the likes of Justin Schultz and Kevin Hayes have taken advantage of in the recent past in order to become unrestricted free agents.
Based on Botchford and Cox’s reporting, it would seem more likely that the Canucks and Hutton have opted to have the contract begin next league year. This is favourable for the Canucks on a variety of levels, both from an asset management perspective and because it allows Hutton to preserve his Calder Cup playoff eligibility.
Moving on to the player himself, Hutton is a very intriguing prospect, in that he combines size and speed with excellent offensive abilities. His production in the NCAA has been more than intriguing, it’s been spectacular. From our Prospect Profile of Hutton this past summer:
15 goals is a hard thing to do if you’re a 20-year old D in the NCAA. Justin Schultz, a noted offensive dynamo in college, had 18 in his 20-year old season, while Torey Krug and Brendan Smith had 12 and 15 in their respective campaigns. Former Colorado Avalanche 2nd rounder Colby Cohen also tallied 14 times for Boston University when he was 20, and Preds 4th rounder Garrett Noonan scored 16 times in 2011-2012. Other than that, 15 G, 20-year old D are very few and far between.
Aside from being the only defenseman in the NCAA’s Hockey East to lead his team in goals, Hutton also added 14 assists on the year, giving him the Hockey East lead in total scoring by defensemen, and only 23-year old Trevor van Riemsdyk had a higher points per game.
Perhaps the most statistically impressive thing about Hutton’s season aren’t his lofty point totals, but his obscenely high shot rate. Josh Weissbock found that Hutton averaged 3.4 shots on goal per game this past season, which is a ton for any player, let alone a blueliner. To put 3.4 shots per game into perspective, only 16 skaters, none of whom are defenseman, averaged more shots on goal per game in the NHL last year.
This past season Hutton’s eye-popping offensive totals regressed somewhat, but he still managed an impressive nine goals and 21 points. Fortunately Hutton maintained a sky-high shot rate even as Maine’s team quality took a step back overall. Even highly regarded Dallas Stars prospect Devin Shore, a teammate of Hutton’s in Maine, also saw his offensive totals decline, so this shouldn’t be a major concern.
If we exclude Frank Corrado and Adam Clendening and define “prospect” somewhat more narrowly, it’s clear that Hutton is now Vancouver’s top blue-line prospect. He’s a major addition, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can help the Comets make a Calder Cup playoff push in the coming months.
Hutton is particularly dangerous on the power play, and you’ll notice that he scores a tonne of goals in this clip by jumping into the rush aggressively, or being set up very deep in the offensive zone on the power play: